A little over a month ago, after the San Bernardino shootings, I made a point of saving this column by Nicholas Kristoff in the New York Times. Apart from the fact that he says almost all that needs to be said about what America needs to do about the gun nightmare in its midst, what struck me about the column was something that, in one sense, was even sadder.
Kristoff's new urgency about taking action on guns stands in stark contrast to a column he wrote many years ago, in which he urged Democrats to drop all efforts at promoting gun control and refocus their political energies on issues where they stood a greater chance of making political progress. Sadly, he is now forced to see, as are we all, the consequences of ignoring a danger because of the "political feasibility" of ignoring it.
If an issue is important enough, if the consequences of not addressing it become a matter of life and death, then there is never a better or more urgent time to address it than now. And, in the wake of the epidemic of gun violence that is gripping our nation, that fact has never been more obvious, or more tragic. The blood of these victims, and the damaged lives of the survivors, are both on everyone who thought that there was a more expedient time to address the issue.
And yet, in one sense, Kristoff had a point and, sadly, he may still have it, given the current partisan configuration in Washington. Mirroring the racial animus of its voters in response to the presidency of Barack Obama, the Republicans who control many of the state governments have unleashed a tidal wave of laws that make owning and using a gun easier than owning and driving a car. And their colleagues in Congress would no doubt do the same, without Obama's opposition. If they get a Republican in the White House to work with next year, there's no knowing when or where the floodgates of gun violence will shut. Or, for that matter, even if they will.
So, how do we act now, while acknowledging that the political process is screaming "Halt!"? Sadly, there seems to me to be only one way.
It may be hard to remember for some, but Ronald Reagan's advocacy for gun control laws, which Kristoff references in his column, was rooted in his experience with the Black Panthers and other similar organizations during his time as Governor of California. In his view, there were no private militia rights, or even rights of self-defense, for African-Americans living in poor neighborhoods who felt that the police treated them as criminals simply because of the color of their skin. No, there was just the need for "law and order," and the need to maintain it by making sure that guns didn't fall into the hands of the "wrong people."
America' birth was compromised by the issue of race, and nowhere (as I've said before) has that been more evident than with reference to the issue of guns. Guns have been used historically to suppress African-Americans. Guns are being used today for exactly the same purpose. There is a grotesque imbalance of power, and only one way to redress it. The African-American community must arm itself--lawfully, and for defensive purposes only. The other side only understands the language of bullets. There is a need for the victims to become fluent in that language.
Only then will there be a real incentive for "gun rights" advocates to sue for peace. And only then will they be ready to accept the terms that need to be imposed, the ones that will help to ensure a fair, free, and safe society for all.